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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Former top general calls on Obama to wipe out Isis in wake of Foley killing” was written by Spencer Ackerman in New York and Dan Roberts in Washington, for The Guardian on Thursday 21st August 2014 17.42 UTC

An influential retired US general has called on Barack Obama to order the destruction the militant group responsible for murdering American journalist James Foley amid conflicting views in the administration on how to respond to the atrocity.

As Obama’s foreign policy team debates expanding its renewed air war in Iraq after the killing of Foley by the Islamic State (Isis), John Allen, a retired marine general who commanded the Afghanistan war from 2011 to 2013, urged Obama to “move quickly to pressure its entire ‘nervous system’, break it up, and destroy its pieces.”

Allen’s argument, presented in an op-ed for the DefenseOne website, echoes remarks by secretary of state John Kerry and comes amid internal dispute in the Obama administration over the future course of its two-week air war in Iraq. Much diplomatic effort is said to be spent broadening and hardening a region-wide effort against Isis, something Allen endorsed, with Turkey and Qatar being a particular near-term focus for Kerry.

The debate is said to be fluid. At present, a US official anticipated more continuity than change in future military operations against Isis, but said: “It may ultimately evolve.”

On Wednesday, six new airstrikes continued to hit Isis positions near the Mosul Dam, three days after Obama declared that it was no longer under Isis control. Nearly two-thirds of the 90 US strikes since 8 August have taken place near the critical dam.

In a grisly video produced by Foley’s captors, his killer says Foley’s death came as revenge for US airstrikes in Iraq. Soon after the video was released, the US confirmed that it had recently mounted a failed rescue bid for Foley. Elite US military forces secretly invaded Syria earlier this summer in a mission that involved dozens of special operations forces from all US military services, including the 160th special operations aviation regiment.

US forces flew into Syria in defiance of air defence batteries that senior military officials have described as highly threatening to pilots. Modified Black Hawk helicopters were involved, and “armed fixed-wing aircraft and drones” provided cover to forces on the ground, said an administration official. No hostages were found at the targeted location.

It emerged on Thursday that Foley’s family received a message from Foley’s captors on 13 August, warning them that he would be killed. They passed the message on to the US government, which helped with a response. Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that had published work by Foley, told Reuters: “It was an appeal for mercy. It was a statement that Jim was an innocent journalist,” and that he respected the people of Syria, where he was held.

Foley’s family and friends hoped the militants were bluffing and wanted a ransom, he said. The group had last year demanded a ransom of 2m for his rescue, Balboni said.

Wary of overcommitment to a new Iraq war, the Obama administration has sent mixed signals about how far it is willing to go against Isis. Kerry, who has been hawkish against Isis, said the jihadist organization “must be destroyed/will be crushed”, a goal beyond the one Obama has thus far set.

Allen proposed attacking Isis in Syria as well as Iraq “across its entire depth”, an option the Pentagon has studied after the group overran Iraq’s second largest city in June but is yet to implement.

In an interview on Thursday with National Public Radio, one of Obama’s closest advisers opened the door for attacking Isis in Syria, which would represent a significant expansion of a bombing effort whose missions have slowly evolved.

“We would not restrict ourselves by geographic boundaries,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “We haven’t made decisions to take additional actions at this time.”

Rhodes indicated that the administration believes that the incoming government of Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad will aid US efforts in assembling and deepening an anti-Isis coalition. Rejecting a recent suggestion, Rhodes ruled out a rapprochement with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to confront a mutual foe.

Writing for the DefenseOne website, Allen conspicuously praised Obama, who is wary of expansive promises made by the military. He did not propose a return to ground combat, but urged a “focused advise and assist” mission to bolster Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers and non-jihadist Syrian rebels, a commitment that would require a reintroduction of significantly more US military advisers.

Obama has ruled out US ground combat, preferring to rely on proxies, something his critics have not challenged, with memories of a bloody US occupation still fresh. The US official said working through vetted Syrian opposition groups and Iraqi and Kurdish forces “will continue to be the foundation of the US approach going forward”.

Though entire divisions of the Iraqi army fled from Isis in June, “they’ve shown a lot more capability in the last two weeks than in the previous two months,” the official said.

At the State Department, officials said the US is pressuring Qatar and Turkey to help cut off flows of financing and foreign fighters to Isis, even as they cautioned that they did not see evidence of either government supporting the extremist group officially.

“We are working with governments in the region where we believe there are private citizens funding [Isis] to get them to clamp down even further to cut off those sources of funding,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“We need to attack [Isis] on a variety of fronts, one of which is the bombs that the Pentagon folks are dropping on them right now. One of them is not letting them have access to resources.”

Kerry also spoke directly to the Qatari foreign minister on Wednesday, during which Foley’s death was “likely” to have come up, according to US officials, although the call was primarily about Gaza.

Asked whether Qatar, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – another alleged source of funding – were “fully on board”, Harf responded: ”Well, look, we’re talking to them every day about what more we can all do. We know there’s more that needs to be done. We know this is a long-term fight, and we know it’s a tough one. So we’re having those conversations.”

Allen said Foley’s killing “embodies” the threat from Isis, which he called “an entity beyond the pale of humanity”. The US official said Allen’s article “serves a purpose in helping explain to the American people how dire it is”.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Congressman Bobby Rush escorted off House floor for wearing hoodie” was written by Ewen MacAskill in Washington, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 28th March 2012 18.41 UTC

Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush was escorted from the House Wednesday after being reprimanded for wearing a hoodie to protest against the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Rush, a former member of the militant group the Black Panthers, came into the chamber wearing a suit, with a hoodie underneath.

As Rush began to speak, he took off his jacket to reveal the hoodie, which has become a symbol of solidarity with Martin. Pulling up the hood, he said: “Racial profiling has to stop. Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”

As he continued speaking, he took off his normal glasses and replaced them with sunglasses. He was interrupted by the acting Speaker, Gregg Harper, from Mississippi, who said: “The member will suspend.” He added that Rush was in breach of a House regulations on decorum.

Rush, who represents Illinois, continued, quoting from the Bible. Harper, speaking over him, repeated: “The gentleman will suspend.” Looking exasperated, Harper finally said: “The member is no longer recognised.” He then asked the serjeant-at-arms to enforce the prohibition.

After he had left, Harper reiterated that Rush was in breach of the rule on decorum, which meant no hats. “The donning of a hood is not consistent with this rule,” he said.

The Martin case has become one of the most heated race-related issues of recent years. Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, last month. He had been wearing a hoodie at the time. George Zimmerman, a member of a neighbourhood watch patrol, had called the police to say he had seen someone in a hoodie who looked suspicious. Zimmerman has not been charged.

Martin’s parents were in Congress Tuesday for a hearing of the House judiciary committee on racial profiling.

In an interview with the Washington Post, they praised Rush’s actions. The father, Tracy Martin, said: “I would like to commend Congressman Rush for pleading our case. My question would be why wasn’t Congressman Rush allowed to address racial profiling. This is something that needs to be talked about … This is a country of freedom of speech.”

Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said: “It just shows a lot of people are passionate about his movement of Trayvon Martin.” She added that it also demonstrated that some people just did not get it.

The two met Rush on Tuesday. They told the Post they believed he had been killed because of racial profiling.

Rush co-founded in 1968 the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, a group which rejected Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach to civil rights in favour of violence. He was imprisoned for six months in 1972 on a gun charge.

A born-again Christian, he left the Panthers in 1974 and has represented Illinois in Congress since 1993. As a political veteran going back to the 1960s and respected by many African-Americans in Chicago for his role in the Black Panthers, he was contemptous when faced with a challenge for his seat in 2000 by the then little-known Barack Obama.

Rush treated him as upstart who knew little of life in Chicago’s poor, African-American neighbourhoods. Obama countered that Rush belonged to the past and there was a need to work with whites to get things done. Rush crushed him in the primary, one of Obama’s few serious setbacks.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Supreme court health care day 3 – live” was written by Jim Newell, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 28th March 2012 18.45 UTC

2.44pm: And the second session of the day has adjourned – the Most Important Legal Proceeding Since The Trial Of Jesus Christ is over! Let’s see if worrywart Jeffrey Toobin escaped before his head exploded:

Toobin will survive. Again: Toobin will survive. The healthcare reform law though? We’ll have to wait a couple of months before we know about that.

2.31pm: Another thing to keep in mind about the “severability” of the individual mandate: legislators didn’t (forgot to?) include a “severability clause” in the healthcare law, which would have prevented the court from throwing out the whole bill if it found one provision – such as, say, an individual mandate – unconstitutional. That doesn’t mean it is obligated to throw out the whole bill if there’s one one provision it finds unconstitutional, and doing so would be a radical act. But if the whole thing was tossed, Democratic lawmakers would deserve part of the blame for their carelessness.

 

2.16pm: In the afternoon session, Paul Clement tried to argue that the provision for states to expand their Medicaid programs, a part of the bill expected to bring coverage for 15 million low-income Americans and children, unfairly coerces the states. The way the program would work: The federal government would pick up the states’ full tab for new enrollees through 2014, after which it would pick up a mere 90%.

This “coercion” claim is expected to be Clement’s most challenging argument, and as the Wall Street Journal liveblog notes, liberal justices were all over him as this afternoon’s session began. Stephen Breyer, for example:

Justice Stephen Breyer, meanwhile, has been hitting Mr. Clement hard on his most central claim: that the federal government will force states to leave the Medicaid program entirely if they don’t go along with the expansion under the health law. States say that they are afraid that this will destroy their budgets, which rely heavily on Medicaid funds.

Justice Breyer says that that isn’t the case — it’s up to the Health and Human Services Secretary to decide whether to kick them out altogether, and administrative law requires the secretary and other federal government officials to act reasonably, he argues. “Now, does that relieve you of your fear?” he asked.

1.51pm: Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Rick Santorum just wants to be left alone with his lunch.

 

1.46pm: The court’s audio and transcript (PDF) from this morning’s session are online.

1.29pm: Our correspondent Chris McGreal lined up at 4am to be sure of a seat in court today. Here’s his take:

Wednesday morning’s session boiled down to dueling between the court’s liberal and conservative justices over who should have the authority to decide the fate of the rest of the health care legislation if its core, mandatory medical insurance, is ruled unconstitutional. Justice Scalia was the most aggressive in pressing the idea that it is not up to the supreme court to wade through the remainder of the legislation to decide what should remain and what should not.

He appeared firmly in favour of striking down the whole law if the individual mandate is declared unconstitutional – and gave a clear sign that he thinks it is when he argued that it would be better to throw out the whole law and let Congress begin again.

“Whether we strike it all down or leave some of it in place, the congressional process will never be the same. One way or another, Congress is going to have to reconsider this, and why isn’t it better to have them reconsider it – what – what should I say – in toto, rather than having some things already in the law which you have to eliminate before you can move on to consider everything on balance?” he said.

Some of the more liberal judges were open to the idea that it need not be the end of the health reform law. Justice Sotomayor suggested that if the individual mandate is ruled out, the rest could he allowed to stand while Congress amends the legislation to make it workable.

Justice Kagan said the legislation did not have to be perfect for it to be viable. She said the law was in any case a compromise reached in Congress. “And the question is always, does Congress want half a loaf. Is half a loaf better than no loaf?” she said.

Justice Breyer argued that there are many aspects of the legislation not directly related to the individual mandate. “I would say the Breast Feeding Act, the getting doctors to serve underserved areas, the biosimilar thing and drug regulation… those have nothing to do with the stuff that we’ve been talking about yesterday and the day before, okay? So if you ask me at that level, I would say, sure, they have nothing to do with it, they could stand on their own,” he said.

1.16pm: So the takes following this morning’s session don’t seem as gloomy for the law’s prospects as yesterday, but it was still hardly a walk in the park for the government’s lawyers. The four liberal justices seem intent on preserving the law even without an individual mandate – although, as we gleaned yesterday, they’re also intent on preserving the individual mandate. Justice Scalia, meanwhile, sounds eager to destroy the entire law with a sledgehammer as soon as possible, for various constitutional and political and congressional procedure-based reasons (whatever works, basically.) Justices Roberts and Kennedy simply would like to ask more questions, and perhaps play devil’s advocate on occasion, to mess with our heads.

The key issue is to what degree removing the individual mandate would disrupt interlocking parts of the bill. Scalia best exemplified the absolutist’s take: “My approach would be to say that if you take the heart out of this statute, the statute’s gone.” This neatly echoed the argument of the plaintiff’s lawyer, Paul Clement, who put it, “If the individual mandate is unconstitutional, then the rest of the act cannot stand.”

Perhaps there’s a bit of nuance the absolutists overlook, however? The individual mandate may be the heart of the health insurance finance mechanism in the law – if you require insurers to offer coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions, then you need a lever for universality that keeps healthier folks in the risk pool to prevent the so-called health insurance “death spiral”, while offering generous government subsidies to further induce them into participation. But if the individual mandate was struck down, wouldn’t this just leave a bad, ineffective public policy in its wake that Congress would have to clear up (some way, somehow?) Some would say that the United States government has plenty of bad public policies in place, but that doesn’t mean they’re the concern of the supreme court.

And even if the mandate/pre-existing conditions/subsidies interlocking complex was excised, much of the rest of the bill – the set-up of state health insurance exchanges, high risk pools, the expansion of Medicaid, and more – could still stand without leading to the collapse of the healthcare market.

Of course, the afternoon session will deal the federal government’s ability to hoist healthcare mandates upon the states, so the conservative justices could simply rule all of the other stuff unconstitutional too.

12.39pm: Just like Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia seems unusually concerned congressional vote-counting, which – last we checked – is not his job as an arbiter of constitutionality. It sounds like he, and others on his side, might be looking for an excuse to invalidate the whole law as a practical necessity:

12.26pm: The Romney press shop has sent out a notice that former president George HW Bush will endorse Mitt Romney in Houston today, just as he did back in December. Now it is super-official, though, we guess. He now leads his son, former President George W. Bush, 2-0 in total Mitt Romney 2012 presidential endorsements.

12.25pm: Apparently we had some argumentative comedy today, during the president’s alleged train/plane wreck inside the Supreme Court:

Who hit who with the chair or the barbed wire? These Supreme Court justices play too many violent video games.

12.16pm: Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog has an interesting, practical take – that some justices may not be interested in striking down the individual mandate alone because it would be too much of a pain to figure out what to do afterwards:

The Supreme Court spent 91 minutes Wednesday operating on the assumption that it would strike down the key feature of the new health care law, but may have convinced itself in the end not to do that because of just how hard it would be to decide what to do after that. A common reaction, across the bench, was that the Justices themselves did not want the onerous task of going through the remainder of the entire 2,700 pages of the law and deciding what to keep and what to throw out, and most seemed to think that should be left to Congress.

12.08pm: The morning session has adjourned. Here’s CNN/New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, giving his latest apocalyptic, sky-is-falling tweet that will terrify Obamacare supporters for the rest of the day whether it has merit or not:

11.59am: The Los Angeles Times has the latest from inside, and its take, at least, is that conservative justices want to tear down the whole law if the individual mandate is invalidated. Oh, they’re feeling frisky today:

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices said Wednesday they are prepared to strike down President Obama’ s health care act entirely.

Picking up where they left off Tuesday, the conservatives said they thought a decision striking down the individual mandate means the whole statute should fall with it.

The court’s conservatives sounded as though they had determined for themselves that the 2,700 page law must be declared unconstitutional.

“One way or another, Congress will have to revisit it in toto,” said Justice Antonin Scalia.

Agreeing, Justice Anthony Kennedy said it would be an “extreme proposition” to allow the various insurance regulations to stand after the mandate was struck down.

11.38am: Longtime Democratic Representative Bobby Rush was kicked off the House floor this morning for donning a hoodie in honor of dead Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Rush supposedly violated chamber rules against wearing hats. Hats!

 

11.31am: The Wall Street Journal live blog, fed by its reporters in the Supreme Court indicates that things are, again, shockingly, breaking down along ideological lines!

Liberal justices are making a strong case for “salvaging” the law even in the event of the individual mandate being ruled unconstitutional; and Chief Justice Roberts – considered, along with Justice Kennedy, one of the two conservative justices who remain open to upholding the law – is exploring another, well, another option:

Chief Justice John Roberts has asked several questions of Mr. Clement that further the case for striking down the whole law, and echo other remarks from Justices Alito and Scalia.

He has suggested that the whole of the health-law should be considered to be linked to the individual mandate because its myriad of other provisions, such as black-lung payments, were actually included as sweeteners to pass the main bill. Without them, Congress “would not have been able to cobble together the votes to get it approved,” he said.

So now Chief Justice John Roberts fancies himself the House Majority Whip, checking out vote counts?

11.14am: Supporters of the health care law – or at least defenders of its constitutionality – dug up all the bitterness they could muster in some sweeping reactions to the liberals’ rough day in court Tuesday.

Slate legal writer Dahlia Lithwick, for example, nearly gave up on modernity, community, and hope altogether:

This morning in America’s highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don’t want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old. Until today, I couldn’t really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of “liberty.” This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It’s about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that’s been inspected. It’s about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it’s 1804.

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy gave up on humanity, calling the case “a bad joke”:

But, of course, this case isn’t ultimately about the law—it is about politics. The four ultra-conservative justices on the court—Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas—are in the vanguard of a movement to roll back the federal government and undermine its authority to tackle market failures. The movement began in the nineteen-eighties, when the Federalist Society got its start and Ronald Reagan appointed one of its members, Scalia, to the court—and for thirty years it has been gathering strength.

Thus the creation of a new legal theory to sink Obamacare: the idea that while the federal government might well have the authority to regulate economic activity, it doesn’t have the right to regulate inactivity—such as sitting around and refusing to buy health insurance. Now, it is as plain as the spectacles on Antonin Scalia’s nose that opting out of the health-care market is about as realistic as opting out of dying. But necessity is the mother of invention. And, judging by his questions this morning, it is this invention that Kennedy has fastened on.

As I said at the beginning, it’s a bad joke—upon us all.

And Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer poured a few tons of salt into Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s wounds:

Stepping up to the podium, Verrilli stammered as he began his argument. He coughed, he cleared his throat, he took a drink of water. And that was before he even finished the first part of his argument. Sounding less like a world-class lawyer and more like a teenager giving an oral presentation for the first time, Verrilli delivered a rambling, apprehensive legal defense of liberalism’s biggest domestic accomplishment since the 1960s – and one that may well have doubled as its eulogy.

Reactions on the conservative side, meanwhile, are all more or less in line with that of Senator Ron Johnson, who apparently thought he was watching Braveheart during the hearing:

10.43am: Mitt Romney is now even more deeply engaged in a spat with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, writing at Foreign Policy, “It is not an accident that Mr. Medvedev is now busy attacking me. The Russians clearly prefer to do business with the current incumbent of the White House.” As president, Mitt Romney will… never do business with Russia, or something.

9.57am: If you’re looking to kill a few hundred hours reading something, The New York Times Magazine’s Matt Bai has written an impossibly detailed 10,000-word account of how last year’s debt ceiling negotiations between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner went. (They went poorly.)

9.45am: Good morning. This is Jim Newell in Washington, ready to cover the final day of oral arguments in the Supreme Court health care case, and assorted other political item. There will be two sessions at the court today. At 10am, justices will hear arguments relating to whether the whole health care law should be struck down if the individual mandate is found to be unconstitutional. The second, at 1pm, deals with the health care law’s Medicaid expansion and issues of states’ rights.

While we wait for the excitement to begin, here’s Ryan Devereaux‘s summary of Supreme Court and campaign news today.

President Barack Obama’s signature health care law appears to be in peril, as a number of the Supreme Court’s more conservative judges continue to raise questions about the legislation’s constitutionality. The court’s decision is expected in June. Given the centrality of the Affordable Care Act to the president’s first term, the Supreme Court challenge will undoubtedly impact his efforts at re-election and the arguments of his challengers.

Newt Gingrich has admitted he can’t win the GOP presidential nomination outright and is cutting his staff in order to focus on winning at the Republican convention this summer. Tuesday night Gingrich’s campaign manager announced one third of the former House speaker’s staff would be leaving soon. The Gingrich camp believes neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum will collect enough delegate votes to clinch the nomination. They hope to “take it to Obama” with Gingrich’s “big ideas”, which currently reportedly include a $2.50-a-gallon gasoline and two or three other things.

Mitt Romney appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno Tuesday evening. The Republican frontrunner played a game of word association with Leno and joked about his rival Rick Santorum’s recent struggles with the media, suggesting the former Pennsylvania senator could serve as “press secretary” in a Romney administration. Romney resisted Leno’s attempts to go into detail about who he’d like to enlist as a vice president. He did, however, suggest he would be okay with Santorum filling the role. “I’m happy with him saying he’d like to be part of an administration with me, nothing wrong with that, if he’s the V.P. that’s better,” Romney said. “I’d rather be the president. Let him be the vice president.”

A new poll finds President Obama leading his Republican rivals in three important swing states. According to the latest Quinnipiac survey, Obama beats Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Florida, Obama leads Romney 49% to 42%, and Santorum 50% to 37%. Obama has an advantage of 47% to 41% over Romney in Ohio, and beats Santorum 47% to 40%. The race is closer in Pennsylvania, where Obama tops Romney 45% to 42 %, though Romney is well within the margin of error. Obama beats Santorum in home state of Pennsylvania 48% to 41%.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Supreme court debates ‘Obamacare’ and Republican campaign – live” was written by Jim Newell, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 16.55 UTC

12.54pm: Day One of the Case of the Century has already concluded, and the chamber is clearing out. Here’s CNN/New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin‘s insta-reaction from the press bench:

Jamie Dupree of WBS radio had a bit more to offer, suggesting that there was still plenty of intra-justice sparring during these early, procedural hours:

While the U.S. Supreme Court set aside 90 minutes for argument on the first day of its review of the Obama health reform law, it did not seem like there was an appetite among the Justices to side step the essential question of the constitutionality of the law itself.

Instead, the Justices started skirmishing in advance of what will be the main event on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court takes two hours to review the individual mandate.

Jess Bravin at the Wall Street Journal felt a similar vibe – that the justices seem quite eager to fight this out instead of making an anticlimactic punt:

From what we’ve seen today, most of the justices appeared ready to get to the core of this case now, without waiting until 2014. Overall, the justices didn’t seem receptive to the argument that the Anti-Injunction Act bars a suit until 2014 or after because they didn’t see the insurance-mandate penalty as the kind of tax envisioned by the act.

For further insta-reactions, read any news website. Or stay here all day! You should stay here.

12.31pm: Actor Martin Sheen, who played President Jed Bartlett on The West Wing, has lent his fictional presidential voice to this new ad for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

“The same Republicans in Congress who obstructed Mr. Obama every step on the road back,” he says, “now want to end Medicare, eliminate it altogether.” Watch out, Martin Sheen! PolitiFact is going to shake a fist in your direction, any second now.

12.14pm: Today’s hearing at the Supreme court has now finished for the day.

12.10pm: Why can’t the Supreme Court justices simply decided this case with a game of paintball between the liberals and conservatives? You can learn so much from a game of paintball, according to these Western journalists who played with Hezbollah members.

11.56am: Aaaaand here’s the long-awaited video footage of Rick Santorum calling “bullshit” on Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times. Yes, it looks worse on video. Meaning it’s hilarious! He is quite the angry fellow.

 

11.44am: It wasn’t the big name lawyers for either side – profiles here and here – who opened the proceedings, the Wall Street Journal writes:

In a twist, the first lawyer set to stand up before the court Monday morning wasn’t Donald Verrilli or Paul Clement, the powerhouse advocates leading each side. Instead it’s Robert Long, a Covington & Burling partner who is arguing that the case isn’t ripe for adjudication. Long was hired by the Supreme Court to make that argument because both of the litigants – in a rare point of agreement – say the case is ready to be decided.

And the Associated Press reports on what sounds like a very… exciting… opening…

Eight of nine justices fired two dozen questions in less than half hour at Washington attorney Robert Long. He was appointed by the justices to argue that the case has been brought prematurely because a law bars tax disputes from being heard in the courts before the taxes have been paid.

Under the new law, taxpayers who don’t purchase health insurance will have to report that omission on tax returns for 2014 and will pay a penalty along with federal income tax. At issue is whether that penalty is a tax.

The “good stuff” comes tomorrow, when the individual mandate will be up for question-firing.

11.32am: Here’s our latest commentary on the issue, in which Jason Farago argues that Justices Roberts and Kennedy are all too aware of how overturning the PPACA would reflect on the Court’s reputation:

John Roberts surely wants to see the president lose this election as much as any establishment conservative, but it may be the election of 2000, rather than 2012, that really forces the chief justice’s hand. Whether he believes the zany arguments of the act’s opponents have worth is not the central question – because, to be frank, he has more to lose than Barack Obama, if he strikes it down. Obama may get a second chance, but for Roberts, the entire legitimacy of his court is as stake.

I wouldn’t go before a “death panel” to say so, but it seems a safe bet that Roberts and Kennedy will back the administration, if on narrow terms. But in the unlikely event that the justices kill part or all of the Affordable Care Act, it will at least remind us of one unspoken issue in this presidential race: that when we choose a president for four years, we’re also getting supreme court justices for decades more.

 

11.19am: Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo is also outside the Supreme Court, and notes that the atmosphere closely resembles those last days of protests outside the Capitol two years ago when the House was passing the health care law – specifically, tea partiers and liberal supporters shouting past each other with cheap sloganeering:

11.08am: Spotted amid the throngs of activists and angry journalists who couldn’t procure seating to today’s Supreme Court hearing: Rick Santorum, whining (appropriately) about how Mitt Romney basically invented the dreaded legislation being discussed indoors.

10.45am: Rick Santorum is standing by his hurling of a curse word – oh my! – at a New York Times reporter, telling Fox & Friends this morning, “If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you’re not really a real Republican.” A new public litmus test! Romney? Gingrich? When will you curse out a Timesman in public?

Santorum – like any good Catholic boy – is even turning his vulgarity into a fundraising opportunity, emailing his supporters this morning:

Earlier today, while campaigning in Wisconsin, I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous healthcare legislation. Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words. Let me assure you, I didn’t back down, and I didn’t let him bully me. I think it is high time that conservatives find the courage to expose the liberal press for what they are, a defender and enabler of Romney’s and Obama’s liberal agendas.

This will probably reap great rewards.

10.35am: Let’s say there are two ways to evaluate the likelihood of the Supreme Court overturning, or at least mortally wounding, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: (1) Read every explainer – or really the entirety of every legal blog over the past two years – to arrive at a conclusion based on justices’ previous rulings, overturn rates, or even (god forbid) the case’s merits, or (2) notice that there are five conservatives on the court as opposed to four liberals and just assume they’ll overturn it. The American public, according to The Hill’s latest poll, seem to be thinking more along the lines of (2):

Although voters want the court to strike the law, they don’t necessarily trust the justices’ motivations. Fifty-six percent of likely voters believe the justices are swayed by their own political beliefs, while just 27 percent believe they “make impartial decisions based on their reading of the Constitution.”

Skepticism about the justices relying on their political beliefs ran consistently among age, racial and philosophical categories, with a majority of whites (54 percent), blacks (59 percent), Republicans (56 percent), Democrats (59 percent), conservatives (54 percent), centrists (56 percent) and liberals (59 percent) expressing the same viewpoint.

10.17am: Not that he matters in any way whatsoever, but here is a new ad from Herman Cain in which a bunny is launched from a catapult and then shot in mid-air.

You’ll recall that Herman Cain led a major party’s race for its presidential nomination for several whole weeks last fall.

10.13am: President Obama, as ABC’s Jake Tapper reports, got himself into a bit of hot mic trouble near the end of his 90-minute meeting with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev this morning. Here’s the eerie transcript, in which Obama pleads for “space” on missile defense until his would-be reelection is out of the way:

Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

The White House has responded that with Russia having only recently resolved (in its own special way) its “election,” and the United States still having eight more months until its election that’s already been under way for a year, it’s true that neither side expects to get much done in the near term.

10.00am: Good morning and welcome to your Monday politics liveblog. This is Jim Newell writing from Washington. While you can usually find me at Wonkette these days, I’ll be substituting this week to bring you all the freshest political misery.

Most of today’s focus will be on the Supreme Court health care reform hearing, as Ryan Devereaux writes in our briefing of the morning’s events, but sadly the Supreme Court can’t fit us all as spectators. So we’ll have plenty of time to cover the other stuff – what mean things Rick Santorum said about Obama, or Mitt Romney said about Santorum, and so on, forever.

The main focus of political news comes away from the campaign trail today as 26 states challenge the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s signature health care legislation in the Supreme Court. A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds more Americans continue to disapprove of the president’s federal health care law than support it. According to the poll, 47% of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care act while 36% approve, 16% don’t have an opinion. The issue has been prominent on the campaign trail: last week the Obama administration decided to embrace the term “Obamacare”, a phrase often used pejoratively by the president’s challengers.

Rick Santorum took a swing at Mitt Romney on Sunday, calling him “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” Speaking in Wisconsin over the weekend, Santorum added that the former Massachusetts governor was “uniquely disqualified” to serve as the GOP’s presidential candidate. “Pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Santorum said. When pressed about his comments by a reporter, Santorum responded with obscenities. “Quit distorting my words. It’s bullshit.” Both the Obama and Romney camps have capitalized on Santorum’s outburst to cast him as a panicky and unhinged candidate in the final days of a failing campaign. It’s also earned him the nickname, “Tantorum”.

A senior White House adviser, David Plouffe, hit back at Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich for their “reprehensible” comments on the Trayvon Martin shooting. On Friday President Obama expressed his sympathy for the Martin family, saying: “If had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Gingrich said the comments were divisive, and Santorum said the president was “politicizing” the issue. Plouffe said the comments were “reprehensible” and appealing to voters’ “worst instincts”.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why Obama’s healthcare reform is the court’s supreme test” was written by Jason Farago, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 15.01 UTC

In October 2009, a reporter from something called the Cybercast News Service – a strange outfit run by the same people who put a giant ad in New York’s Times Square screaming “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media!” – asked Nancy Pelosi a question about the pending healthcare legislation. “Madam Speaker,” he asked, “where specifically does the constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?” The then-speaker couldn’t believe it. “Are you serious? Are you serious?” she asked, and laughed the guy out of the room.

That was about the reaction most serious conservative legal scholars had, too, when a few outliers groused that Congress had no right to require Americans to obtain healthcare. Their disapproval often went hand in hand with the strange constitution-worship of those early Tea Party days, complete with tricorn hats, irrational defenses of states’ rights, and, not incidentally, a bit of uncertainty about the president’s birth certificate. Within Congress, where Republicans led by Charles Grassley tried for months to forge a bipartisan deal, nobody except a few crusaders, among them Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint, ever proposed that the Affordable Care Act would contravene the rules of the road.

But here we are, not three years later, and the signal accomplishment of Barack Obama’s presidency could be headed for the rubbish heap – by order not of the lawmakers, but of the supreme court. The sun is shining, the capital’s cherry blossoms are in bloom, but outside the courthouse people stood in line (or paid others to do so) for so long you’d think a new iPad was being released. It’s the biggest show in a tiny town, and the justices know they’re being watched. Otherwise, they would never have scheduled three days of oral arguments – the longest parley the court has permitted in nearly half a century.

Monday is for completists only, but could be revealing: the justices will go through some procedural arguments to determine whether they should rule on the act’s constitutionality now or wait until its central planks comes into force in 2014. Though the debate will be dry – it hinges on the Anti-Injunction Act, an arcane piece of tax law from the 1860s – the circumstances of the argument certainly aren’t. Neither the administration nor the law’s opponents claim that the court can’t rule yet; instead, it was the justices themselves who introduced this so-called “orphan argument” and appointed a hotshot DC attorney to make the case. If the justices decide they want to duck the whole issue, we may get a hint Monday.

The real red meat doesn’t come until Tuesday, when the justices will consider whether the “individual mandate”, or the requirement that Americans buy healthcare, falls under the commerce clause. That provision, in Article 1 of the constitution, lets Congress make laws that “regulate Commerce … among the several States,” and it is one of the most fundamental powers assigned to the legislature. The galling justification of the Obamacare opponents is that the mandate impermissibly forces the uninsured to “enter into commerce” – as if the 50 million Americans with no health insurance had never participated in a $2tn industry and were all living in Unabomber-like isolation. Two judges in Atlanta endorsed this argument (in a decision that cited the actual Boston Tea Party), but several conservative appellate judges, including a former clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, were not convinced.

Wednesday is another technical day, hinging partly on states’ participation in Medicaid, but also on whether the court can strike down the individual mandate and leave the rest of the act intact, or whether they have to take it all or nothing.

What this supposed case of the century really amounts to is a political grudge dressed up as a meritless constitutional challenge, and a reminder that a tradition of conservatism that believed in judicial restraint has been superseded by one willing to use the courts to torpedo anything they don’t like. Calling the individual mandate unconstitutional is ridiculous on its face – but it’s even more so when you remember that the Heritage Foundation touted it as an ideal free-market solution to the healthcare crisis back in the 1980s, that it had Newt Gingrich’s backing as recently as the last election cycle, and that poor Mitt Romney signed a nearly identical program into law as governor of Massachusetts. This is not a legal argument; this is a ploy.

And there’s good reason to believe that even this court, with its clear conservative majority, is not going to strike down the most important domestic legislation since the civil rights movement on such flimsy grounds. To be clear, the only reason that this case has a chance of ending with a defeat for the White House is because of the 2006 retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, and the lurch to the right the court has undergone since her departure. Like nowhere else, the presidency of George W Bush endures in the quiet work of the smiling John Roberts and the scowling Sam Alito, to say nothing of the 62 judges Bush placed on the appellate benches, many of them relatively young and fire-breathing.

But unlike Clarence Thomas, who’ll certainly vote to kill Obamacare and maybe a few decades’ worth of earlier rulings besides, Roberts is neither indifferent to precedent nor deaf to public skepticism about the court’s impartiality. He certainly isn’t the minimalist “umpire” he claimed to be at his 2005 confirmation hearing. None of us, during this first Citizens United election, can still believe that now.

But Roberts, as well as Anthony Kennedy, knows that the court has never recovered from the disgrace of Bush v Gore 12 years ago. John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent that that case would destroy “the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law”, and he was right. According to a poll this month, fully three out of four Americans think the justices’ political views will determine their decision in this case.

John Roberts surely wants to see the president lose this election as much as any establishment conservative, but it may be the election of 2000, rather than 2012, that really forces the chief justice’s hand. Whether he believes the zany arguments of the act’s opponents have worth is not the central question – because, to be frank, he has more to lose than Barack Obama, if he strikes it down. Obama may get a second chance, but for Roberts, the entire legitimacy of his court is as stake.

I wouldn’t go before a “death panel” to say so, but it seems a safe bet that Roberts and Kennedy will back the administration, if on narrow terms. But in the unlikely event that the justices kill part or all of the Affordable Care Act, it will at least remind us of one unspoken issue in this presidential race: that when we choose a president for four years, we’re also getting supreme court justices for decades more.

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